The UK government has confirmed its intention to retain the Food Standards Agency (FSA), though a number of its former policy areas will become the responsibility of other government departments.

This follows a report in The Guardian last week, which stated that the FSA was set to be abolished and its responsibilites divided up in Whitehall.

These claims were downplayed at the time by government, which said that the FSA’s role would be reviewed in a public health paper due this autumn.

It has now announced its plans ahead of schedule, with the Department of Health gaining responsibility for nutrition policy in England, including front-of-pack labelling, such as Guideline Daily Amounts. However, the FSA will retain its responsibility for nutrition and labelling policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will take country of origin labelling under its wing, along with various other non-safety-related food labelling and food composition policies in England. This will leave a drastically scaled-down FSA focusing solely on food safety policy and enforcement.

The FSA will support the delivery of the government’s commitment to deliver honesty in food labelling, and the delivery of one of Defra’s top priorities: the commitment to support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production, and promote increased domestic food production.

The government said it was keen for food safety policy, the primary focus of the FSA when it was established as a non-ministerial Government department in 2000, to remain independent.

The changes have been made with the aim of contributing to “objectives to improve efficiency”, as well as improving the health of the nation.

“It’s absolutely crucial for the Food Standards Agency to continue providing independent expert advice to people about food safety. But bringing nutrition policy into the Department makes sense,” commented secretary of state for health Andrew Lansley.

“It will enable a clear, consistent public health service to be created, as our Public Health White Paper later this year will set out.”

The Food & Drink Federation has welcomed today’s announcement. “We believe it is important to maintain an independent food safety regulator and fully support today’s decision by the government to retain the Food Standards Agency,” commented director general Melanie Leech.

“We also support the decision to move responsibility for nutrition, and other food policy issues, back into government departments. This should lead to clearer and more consistent policy-making, while avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort across Whitehall.”

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